Kurds, Kurdistan and ISIS
There is a region, mostly scattered among the central and northern portions of the Zagros mountain range, that is largely Kurdish. It encompasses the north and northwest of Syria, bordering right up to the edge of Turkey, and in the three corners where eastern Turkey, northeastern Iraq and northwestern Iran meet. The CIA Factbook estimates that there are about thirty million Kurds worldwide with the bulk of them in the above four state region that is sometimes called Kurdistan. Fourteen million Kurds, the largest grouping of them, live in eastern Turkey, mostly where the three corners meet; about six million each live there in northwestern Iran, and in northeastern Iraq; about two million Kurds live in Syria, where they comprise about twelve percent of the total Syrian population.The Kurds are known as tolerant of a variety of religions. While the dominant religion is Shafi’i Sunni, there is a significant minority of Shia (including the Alevi form of Shi’a), and a variety of other religions among the Kurds, including Yazidism, which came in the headlines recently as U.S. air attacks helped save a number of Yazidis trapped on the mountain range above Sinjar. There also are a number of adherents to Judaism. It surprises some to know that there are approximately one hundred and fifty-thousand Kurds living in Israel. Upon conquering a new land ISIS generally destroys other places of worship or monuments, institute a religious tax, and demands conversion to their brand of Sunniism.
The term Kurdistan is often used to describe this total area of Kurdish population, which is sometimes problematic since the term also is used to refer to the nationalist ambitions of many of the Kurds for their own nation-state. Other Kurds merely want greater autonomy within existing states, along the lines of Kurdistan in Iraq, where they have their own Parliament and Prime Minister as well as sharing national power, at least in theory according to the new constitution of Iraq. A large factor in the obtaining their semi-autonomous status in Iraq, was the existence of the large Kirkuk Oil Fields now under Kurdish control. In Syria, the Kurds have long undergone various forms of discrimination by the central government of Assad, which is Alewite, another offshoot of the Shia religion. More recently
the Sunni militant group ISIS, in Syria, has been systematically invading and occupying large portions of the Kurdish populated areas in Syria. A fierce battle for the town of Kobani has been at the forefront of the news these past few weeks. And, just this past week ISIS has reportedly launched simltaneous invasion in fifteen separate Kurdish areas in northern Iraq, including attempting to regain the crucial control of the Mosul Dam.
The U.S., at first, downplayed the importance of Kobani, and the Turks refused to let Turkish Kurds cross the border to help their brethren fight. However Kobani, which is close to the Syria-Turkey border, due to media attention, took on a bigger symbolic role than was foreseen. With a result that pressure was placed on the U.S. to give bigger air support to the Kurdish defenders of Kobani. The Air Force finally complied, to the extent of attacking supply routes and presumed concentrations of military equipment in the outskirts of Kobani. Furthermore, the Turkish government, just in the past two days, has relented and permitted Turkish Kurds to cross over into Syria to aid in the fight for Kobani.
The Turkish reluctance to permit its Kurds from going through the border to help in the defense of Kobani is puzzling to many in the West. Their concern is the active Kurdish militants’ desire to secede from Turkey. Thus, they fear that Kurds going over to Syria to fight ISIS might return with weapons and more military experience that would come back to haunt Turkey. All this makes the turnabout by Turkey, this week, to permit Turkish Kurds to cross the border into Syria all the more significant and probably foreshadows a more active Turkish involvement in the effort to stop ISIS.